Tight ROV Integration Puts Productivity On The Rise:
Improving The Relationship Between Man And Machine

Marybeth Gilliam, Chief Marketing Officer, VP Sales, Greensea

The consumer electronics market figured out long ago that technology advancements could be significantly more powerful when they work together. For example, tight integration of data through our mobile devices allows us to make an online dinner reservation, receive driving instructions to the restaurant, add the phone number to our contacts, and instantly share the information with friends. While making an online reservation was a nice technology advancement, the integration of the information throughout our digital lives had a far more powerful effect on our productivity.

NOAA’s Deep Discoverer runs a fully integrated Greensea system including navigation, vehicle control and payload control.

NOAA’s Deep Discoverer runs a fully integrated Greensea system including navigation, vehicle control and payload control. Photo credit: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration/Department of Commerce.

 

The marine industry is poised to make a similar shift. Until now, the majority of work and research in robotics— including within the subsea industry for ROVs—has been towards developing better, more intelligent sensors. This has led to more advanced machines, but not necessarily more useful machines. To increase productivity, we need to focus on system management. Through tight technology integration and improved communications with human operators, ROVs can become mission partners and work harder for us.

To make this leap, we need to think about software and hardware in a new way. We can no longer consider multiple sensors as the solution. True solutions will reside within a completely integrated system that includes the operator. When man and machine can share high-level knowledge generated from integrated technologies, the potential for productivity is exponentially elevated.

Elements of an Integrated System

There are three principal requirements for a cooperative, productive ROV partner:

  • Ability to determine its own state (navigation);

  • Ability to change its state to a desired or commanded state (control); and

  • Ability to interface well with human operators (communications).

While each requirement is important, it is only when the three are fully integrated and working together that they can elevate a system to provide meaningful solutions. Tightly integrated navigation and control creates a more capable vehicle, and fully integrated communications provide operators with a streamlined, efficient workflow. Together, the vehicle becomes a significantly more capable partner.

The integrated Greensea Workspace is a fully distributed, networked system that fuses vehicle control, navigation, sensors, diagnostics, and data management into a single screen. Workspace supports multiple users, even in different locations, and all data is geo-referenced, time-stamped, and logged.

The integrated Greensea Workspace is a fully distributed, networked system that fuses vehicle control, navigation, sensors, diagnostics, and data management into a single screen. Workspace supports multiple users, even in different locations, and all data is geo-referenced, timestamped, and logged.

 

Navigation “systems” are plentiful in our industry but they are more aptly described as strap-on sensors rather than systems. While operators may be able to “see” their vehicle’s position using sonar, video, USBL, or an INS, the vehicle itself—including the control system, payloads, and data— lacks this information.

The potential is clear. If the vehicle has the same information as the operator, it can execute high-level tasking versus simple motion commands. Knowing its location, the vehicle can now natively perform advanced vehicle control functions such as station keeping, automated route following, and target reacquisition—all necessary functions for the vehicle to operate as a contributing member of a team.

A well-integrated user interface—providing the entire workflow across all phases of ROV work (maintenance, modifications, diagnostics, and operation)—is essential to realizing the power of an integrated system. Why should an operator use separate computers, interfaces, and software applications to communicate with a single ROV? It’s more efficient for an operator to learn and use one interface, regardless of the task, payload, or sensor complement. An efficient and effective user-interface optimizes workflow—the user interface becomes a “workspace.”

Streamlining Workflow Through Integration

Consider the simple task of inspection with an observation class vehicle. Today, the pilot flies the vehicle and monitors the vehicle's status with the OEM's ROV interface, locates the object of inspection with the sonar manufacturer’s interface, tracks the vehicle with the navigation system provider’s interface (or perhaps a third-party chart plotting package), inspects the object and records video using a separate video system, and records inspection notes in a separate dive log package. Through this workflow, the operator is solely responsible for interpreting and transporting data between separate interfaces by making adjustments in the ROV’s course based on what he sees in the sonar or video. Should any of these tools change, so does the workflow and interface.

The new, state-of-the-art Schmidt Ocean Institute 4500m ROV, SuBastian, uses Greensea’s OPENSEA operating platform for vehicle control and device management including multiple sonars (scanning and multibeam), cameras, navigation sensors, and scientific instruments.

The new, state-of-the-art Schmidt Ocean Institute 4500m ROV, SuBastian, uses Greensea’s OPENSEA operating platform for vehicle control and device management including multiple sonars (scanning and multibeam), cameras, navigation sensors, and scientific instruments. Photo credit: Carlie Wiener/Schmidt Ocean Institute.

 

Imagine this same task using a fully integrated system. Now, the pilot flies the vehicle, operates the sonar, tracks the vehicle, logs data, and manages video within a single software interface—exactly the same interface for any sensor or payload regardless of the manufacturer.

With this system, the operator locates the object of inspection and double-clicks the feature in the sonar image telling his ROV to track and fly to the feature at a set altitude and speed. Perhaps instead, the operator has created a mission plan telling the ROV to locate and inspect the object. While the ROV conducts the inspection, the operator logs data and records the job in the same software while supervising the job and ensuring the quality of data.

Upon completion, the operator presents the customer with a single cohesive data package captured from a single interface that coordinates and links all of the data from the job: navigation, video, sonar, and inspection notes. Now imagine we are tasked with repeating that inspection in exactly 1 year. The cost savings and increase in productivity for the integrated approach are enormous.

Industry Leaders Applying Integration

Carl Barrett, Program Manager for 3U Technologies, a leading international business consulting firm specializing in engineering project management, recently engaged Greensea Systems, Inc. to provide a fully integrated system for a workclass ROV under his management. “It makes sense that you can dial all this into one comprehensive solution. Instead of six disparate computers doing all these little things, we can put it all into one operating environment.” He went on to say, “We had a computer running the CATHEX light controls, we had a computer running the Sub-Atlantic manifold, we had a computer running the ROV; how many computers are we going to need on this system? Now we have a system running the system.”

Raúl Enrique Peña, VP of Sales and Marketing, Deep Ocean Engineering Inc., has also seen the value that system integration provides to their clients. It is imperative that our military and homeland security clients are able to identify, track, observe, and reacquire a potentially dangerous target with ease and stability. Equipped with Greensea’s integrated system, our Phantom T5 Defender vehicle delivers these mission critical features.”

“The entire concept of operations for ROVs has changed,” said Ben Kinnaman, CEO and president of Greensea. “Now, we can pre-plan missions and push more work down to the vehicle, freeing up the operator to concentrate on their surroundings and the greater mission. This is particularly important for military and security organizations.” Kinnaman continued, “When we conduct testing at our training site, even inexperienced operators can identify a mine in sonar, click on the target in sonar, and then fly to it. All the navigation is in respect to the one thing they care about—the target.” The marine community has always understood and valued the concept of “team.” It is in partnership with a team that we tackle seemingly impossible missions on a regular basis. The next level of robotics embraces ROVs as fully integrated, communicating team members able to share high-level intelligence and decision-making alongside its operators to dramatically enhance the success of a mission.

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